Greenpeace scornful of CE industry's environmental claims

Environmental pressure group Greenpeace poured cold water on many ‘green’ claims from the consumer electronics industry during CES, while acknowledging that some progress is visible.

Its latest Green Electronics survey of CE products applauds CE companies for cutting the use of PVC-type plastics and toxic chemicals and improving energy consumption. However, it also charges the industry with falling short when it comes to recycling, longevity and the upgrade potential of products.

Greenpeace said this is particularly evident when OEMs’ true level of participation in ‘take-back’ schemes for obsolete and disused products is reviewed. “And the elephant in the room here is planned obsolescence,” said survey author and Greenpeace International Toxics campaigner Casey Harrell. “Or what you could call, ‘design for the dump’.”

Harrell acknowledged an inherent tension here with electronics economics, particularly the way in which Moore’s Law sets out the need for a doubling in performance every 18 months that must be paid for by new ranges of product.

“We know this is the point at which the relationships we’ve built up with many of these companies start to get into trouble, but it is fundamental,” Harrell said. “Rather than seeking confrontation, we want to promote new approaches to design.”

Greenpeace’s research suggests that where companies have run comprehensive take-back schemes, they have frequently found that they could re-use many of the more rare and more expensive materials in obsolete devices.

“And with some of these compounds, you are getting to the point where recovery is economically preferable to trying to tap new sources that cost more and more,” said Harrell. “So this is one example where both the environment and the manufacturer can win. We want to highlight more opportunities like that.”

The winner in the latest Greenpeace survey was a 24-inch monitor from PC manufacturer Lenovo, marked at 6.9 out of 10. However, Harrell said the survey should not be seen in absolute terms: “The numbers are about trends. At the top, they get better every time and that is more important than who is the specific winner or loser.”

Several major CE players refused to participate in the survey including Apple, Microsoft, Nintendo, Palm and Philips.

Elsewhere at CES, the Consumer Electronics Association released research that claimed some consumers would pay a significant premium on an $800 (£530) flat-panel display for extra ‘greenery’. At the high end, 22 per cent of the sample ‘accepted’ a 15 per cent mark-up.

However, the same survey found that 40 per cent of consumers remain ‘confused’ by the green product claims made by CE companies and that two-thirds believe OEMs overstate their environmental credentials.

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